Joseph Is Sold into Slavery

Open Your Bible

Genesis 37:1-36, Job 5:2, Psalm 77:2

The ugliest moments of my life have been marked by jealousy. It is perhaps my most defining sin, and it masquerades as pride, fear, insecurity, and relationship-crushing meanness. Envy dehumanizes everyone around me; it removes their own agency as creative, talented, smart image-bearers of God. I no longer see them as their own persons, but rather as measuring sticks for my own worth. Too often, I think, I’m better than so-and-so at that, but nowhere near as good as that other person. If jealousy is my economy, cynicism and narcissism are the currency I trade. If that sounds harsh or out of proportion, it’s not. I think that jealousy and envy are the root of most conflicts between people, and unadmitted jealousy festers and slowly destroys relationships.

Envy is threaded through the Bible, a throughline of sin from Cain and Abel, Rachel and Leah, Saul and David, the pharisees who watched Jesus draw crowds to Himself, and more. In history, art, and literature, examples are rampant. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago cautions Othello about such envy: “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Joseph is the victim of his brothers’ jealousy, which robs him of his family, his home, his dignity, and almost his life. His brothers strip him of his robe and would have killed him, but sold him to a band of traders instead. It was perhaps the equivalent of death in their eyes: they expected to never see him again, and delivered the news of his death to their father Jacob.

As modern readers, we know how the story goes: Joseph trusts the Lord, and the Lord protects him. He rises to power in Egypt and eventually saves his family from famine and forgives his brothers. But the moment we read about today in Genesis 37 doesn’t have any of that goodness— only pain. And by not reading ahead, we can force ourselves to sit in the devastation wreaked by Joseph’s brothers. Jacob mourns the loss of his son and cannot be comforted. Joseph is sold again, this time to an Egyptian official. No longer in control, Joseph has lost all agency at the hands of his jealous brothers.

This is that same “green-eyed monster,” and throughout Scripture, we are warned against its fallout. Proverbs 14:30 cautions that “a tranquil heart is life to the body, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones.” Ecclesiastes 4:4 tells us that “all labor and all skillful work is due to one person’s jealousy of another. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.” And James 3:16 advises that “where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice.”

Scripture certainly doesn’t hold back about the consequences of jealousy, and neither should we. As I read about Joseph’s story, I’m aware that I should “let it read me”: Where is my jealousy hurting people that I love? Where is it corroding my heart and sowing disorder? Where is it disordering my priorities away from Christ and toward my own selfish gain? These are important questions to ask because jealousy isn’t something to be taken lightly. My prayer is that I never will.

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43 thoughts on "Joseph Is Sold into Slavery"

  1. Maura says:

    I have been caught in jealousy it is a monster. I believe it always shows my focus is on the wrong thing. My prayer is Lord, help me to see others and myself with your eyes, your love, and your grace. He never fails. And when I realize we all have our struggles and pain and deep need of Jesus it reminds me I am loved beyond measure as are the people I might be feeling these thought that are not from our Lord. And I can look up instead of down and release it all to the King.Hugs Sisters.

  2. NanaK says:

    As I am reading through your responses to the study this morning, I cannot hold back tears. Ahh, Tina….once again, your words hit home!

    “I think and know these are the insecurities of the past, yet they still rear their ugly head, and get me all discombobulated..yeap, discombobulated!”

    When I allow those insecurities from the past to take hold in my mind, I am giving satan a strong-hold there. This is something I know, but is oh so hard to overcome. However, as my dear Sister across the pond reminds me—“but God…”

    LORD, I pray anew that I can refocus any insecurities that flare up in me to You and the cross. I pray that I will recall that I am your child and see myself and others through Your eyes.

    Thank you dear Sisters for sharing.

  3. Erin B says:

    Recognizing the jealousy (and the brothers sin/cruelty) in this story is huge, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I ever heard anyone give any shared blame to Joseph’s thoughtless/haughty conduct with his brothers. I saw Joseph for a long time like his musical theatre self, just very innocent and righteous and resilient— you know “poor poor Joseph…”. He has always been a character I identified with honestly, because of life trials but also because of natural giftedness, and being hated on for it. God has made me realize over time though, that Joseph had a big mouth, and very little tact. He gloated to his brothers (though perhaps out of dreamy naïveté) and thought himself cooler than them. We do know that a lot of that was probably Jacob’s doing, for favoring him so openly and sowing dissent, but still. Clearly, God had things to teach both Joseph and his brothers.

    1. Hannah Robinett says:

      That’s a very good point! Thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Megan Ruth says:

    I often find myself wrestling with jealousy in my relationships with other believers—jealousy of their spiritual gifts, their beautiful ministry, their seeming spiritual strength. I find all the ways I fault short of being them, instead of remembering that the real issue—falling short of the glory of God has already been dealt with at the cross! And now, we are, in Christ, “God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12). We were each created uniquely to glorify Him and yet we are each held securely in the same love. Thanks be to God

  5. Bessie H says:

    I have sort of a different take on jealousy. I have been the one that my friends/family are jealous of because I have been blessed with grandchildren. Several of them do not have and most likely will not have grandchildren. Sort of like Joseph, I was insensitive to how my talking about my grandchildren was hurtful. Finally, my friend told me that she was very jealous of me. She said this in tears and my heart broke.
    Sometimes I think that it is just as important to be aware of being a source of jealousy and to react with love and gentleness. My prayer is that God will open my eyes to see the pain that others are experiencing and to react as He would.

    1. Jennifer Anapol says:

      Thank you for sharing this different perspective.

    2. Natasha R says:

      Thank you for this perspective, Bessie. I have been reflecting on the same thing. I need to be aware of when I am boastful and showing off, and risk inciting jealousy in others.

    3. K D says:

      Thank you for how you’ve articulated this – it is what I needed today.

  6. Sarah says:

    “If jealousy is my economy, cynicism and narcissism are the currency I trade. If that sounds harsh or out of proportion, it’s not. I think that jealousy and envy are the root of most conflicts between people, and unadmitted jealousy festers and slowly destroys relationships.” This is so good. As soon as I read Melanie’s first line—”The ugliest moments of my life have been marked by jealousy”— I recognized myself. What have I done because of jealousy in my life? What decisions have I made? How have I alienated people? Who have I thrown into a pit or traded away? And… why? Because we want to be the best and the most special, have the most, be the winners, be the most recognized. Have the coat of many colors. We can be small, mean, vindictive people, just like Joseph’s brothers. I’ve been working on recognizing and eliminating jealousy in my life the past year or so, replacing envy of others with celebrating other’s good news. I feel so much more at peace, so much less tangled inside. Thank you for this reminder of just how treacherous jealousy can be!

  7. Kara says:

    We talk a lot about comparison these days and recognize how harmful it is to the psyche. However we often shy away from the real issue: jealousy. I think that’s because we can’t stop jealousy on our own, the same way we can try to stop comparing. Giving up jealousy requires confession and allowing God to fill the places of desire and emptiness.

    Lord, reveal the ways I am jealous and turn my eyes to you only.

  8. Lindsey Bailey says:

    I’ve read this story many times and think about those brothers from a somewhat judgy viewpoint. How could they do such a thing? But, in reality. Jealousy and envy weave their tentacles around so many relationships in my own life that they create the same ugly pit that Joseph’s brothers threw him into. It may be less overt, but the consequences are always death. Death to a connection. Death to a relationship. Melanie mentions James 3:16, Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. I may not be selling people into physical slavery or throwing them into deep caverns, but I have to wonder how many caverns I have created doing life with a heart full of selfish ambition.